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Understanding emotions

To understand what might soothe the fusion of the old and new brain (previous post), it can be useful to understand the emotional regulation systems from a Compassion Focused Therapy perspective. These can be divided into:

  1. Threat system (red) – Our threat system is like the old brain functions. It is like a 24-hour surveillance alarm; always on alert for any potential dangers and doesn’t switch off. Emotions associated with it include anger, anxiety, disgust.
  2. Drive excitement (blue) – We need more in life than just worry; we also need excitement and drive. It motivates us to move towards resources and goals (e.g. food, shelter, social status, opportunities). This system increases our chances of survival. Emotions include excitement, joy, and energised feelings.
  3. Soothing-affiliative (green) – “Rest and digest”. It is linked to feelings like contentment, calmness, safety, rest, and peacefulness.

The interactions between the old and new brain can mirror the relationship between the threat (red) and drive (blue) systems. When these two systems loop, the soothing system (green) is generally offline. To minimise this looping; it is crucial to engage in the soothing system (green), not by-passing it. There may be unhelpful beliefs about the soothing system (“I’ll become arrogant/lazy/weak, I won’t achieve anything”) but it’s essential. We all need rest. The soothing system not only helps to feel content but can soothe us when faced with threats while also empowering us to drive and achieve.

We may experience distress with an imbalance of the systems. It is not about turning off or avoiding any of these systems/emotions. It’s about BALANCE. The systems need to work together, not against each other. No system or emotion is “bad”. Some of these may feel unpleasant (even the more typical “positive” emotions) but each system and emotion has evolved for an important reason.

Next post will be ideas for activating and engaging the green system.

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